The Challenge Tour’s Irish contingent all got off to solid if not unspectacular starts on leg four of the South African Swing on the first day of the weather-affected Manguang Open in Bloemfontein.
Kinsale’s John Murphy is the best-placed of the trio finished after day one as he carded a three-under 69 at Schoeman Park Golf Club, with Tramore’s Robin Dawson following close behind after a 70 at the same course.
However, Holywood’s Tom McKibbin might be best placed of the quartet in action, the 19-year-old sitting two-under at Bloemfontein Golf Club after just nine holes, with his opening round cut short due to poor weather.
Former East of Ireland champion Richard O’Donovan also only got half his round played before being taken off the course, sitting level-par at Schoeman Park.
All four have plenty of ground to make up though, with a trio of players leading the way at nine-under at the close of play, with Spain’s Alejandro del Rey and Scott Fernandez joined by South Africa’s Luke Jerling at the top of the leaderboard.
All three carded identical 63s at Bloemfontein GC, Del Rey and Jerling’s being bogey-free, while Fernandez bounced back from a bogey on his opening hole with six birdies and two eagles to also claim a share of the lead.
“It was great to have a nine-under-par round. I started my day with a bogey and at that point I never thought my day would turn out like it did,” commented co-leader Fernandez.
“I have struggled recently in South Africa due to the heat and altitude and it takes a bit of getting used to. I think today was the best I have played and I decided to attack the greens, especially on the par-fives.”
His fellow Spaniard, Del Rey, was similarly pleased with his performance, his lowest round on Tour since carding an historic 14-under 58 at the 2021 Swiss Challenge.
“It was pretty fun to be honest,” he said. “It’s been tough the last three weeks, so it was great to get a good round going again. I feel like I needed a low round, so today feels really good.
“I drove the ball so well today and every single drive was down the middle. It makes it so much easier and today I putted really well. It’s nice to have a bogey free round and I’m excited to get it going again as quick as possible tomorrow at Schoeman Park.”
Justin Walters heads up their closest rivals sitting two shots back at seven-under, the South African carding the best round of the day at Schoeman Park with a 65, and he’s joined on that score by Spain’s Emilio Cuartero Blanco and Italy’s Jacopo Vecchi Fossa, who added the same score at Bloemfontein.
Murphy, the best of the Irish, is down in a share of 32nd at three-under after he mixed four birdies and just the one bogey in a 69 at Schoeman Park, taking advantage of a fine run before the turn to card three birdies in his final four holes of his front nine, before countering a bogey at the 13th with a birdie at the 15th.
Dawson, meanwhile, had a roller coaster run around his turn, the 26-year-old going on a seven-hole stretch starting at the 14th and ending at the second that included four birdies and three bogeys. He would add one more birdie, at his penultimate hole the eighth, to record a 70.
McKibbin, who has been in contention the last two weeks but lost both to the outstanding JC Ritchie, looks like he has set himself up well early this week, too, with two birdies and no mistakes leaving him two-under at Bloemfontein with half his first round still to complete.
The same applies for O’Donovan, the 31-year-old having to return on Friday morning to complete a first round that consisted of two birdies and two bogeys on his front nine.
The first round will resume at 6am Irish time, before the second round gets under way at 8.30am Irish time.
- Full scoring HERE